Although police in Ferguson have finally identified the officer who shot Michael Brown, a legislative effort last year would have prevented the public from obtaining records until any criminal charges were filed, Watchdog reports.
Democratic Missouri state Rep. Jeff Roorda last year introduced a bill to amend the Sunshine Act. Roorda’s proposal included a clause to mask the name of an officer, with public release occurring only if the officer were charged with a crime in connection to the shooting. Moreover, the bill extends more broadly to cover any police officer in any incident of shooting, regardless of whether the officer is on duty or not.
“These guys face threats during their eight-hour shifts,” Roorda told the St. Louis Post-Dispatcher. “They shouldn’t have to face them at home.” For Roorda, the right to know is already accommodated either by the existing police internal investigative processes, or if a lawsuit is filed.
“If they did something wrong, they’re going to be charged criminally and everyone should know what their name is,” he added.
Others were less optimistic about the effects of the bill on the media’s ability to deliver crucial information about police incidents. “In other words: if this bill became law, and I were an off-duty police officer in Missouri and I shot someone in the course of a confrontation, the (St. Louis) Post-Dispatch basically would be high and dry in assessing records about the incident,” Jonathan Peters of Columbia Law Review wrote earlier on June 12.
Roorda also happens to be the business manager of the St. Louis Police Officers’ Association.
The bill has stalled, however, not receiving either a hearing or vote in the Missouri House, and that seems very unlikely to change in the aftermath of the Ferguson riots, where identification of Darren Wilson, the officer who shot Michael Brown, has been not only a local, but a national story. There currently is no nationwide consensus among police departments regarding name disclosure in use-of-force investigations.
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